Inscription Commentaries

Linear B Inscriptions

Knossos Tablet ( KN 903)

Knossos Linear B Tablet

wa-to a-ko-ra-ja OVIS:m 60 OVIS:f 270 CAP:m 49

CAP:f 130 SUS:m 17 SUS:f 41 BOS:m 2 BOS:f 4

This tablet is read just as modern Greek is read (left to right, top to bottom) but it is written as a syllabic version of Greek. This means that each character in Linear B does not correspond to a single letter, but rather to a syllable of spoken sound. This is why the words when transcribed, are written as "a-ko-ra-ja" rather than αγόρα.

On this tablet, the location is written at the start of the first line as wa-to a-ko-ra-ja (Wato agora). This could possibly be in reference to the Agora in Lato which was a city in eastern Crete, but it could also be in reference to a yet undiscovered ancient site.

Following the location name, different animals are represented by a single character. For each animal, there were two symbols that could be used depending on the sex of the animal. These symbols are, by convention, transcribed using the Latin abbreviation for the corresponding animal. The Latin term for goat is capra which has been taken and abbreviated to CAP in the transcription with an attached m/f/n initial to indicate sex.

Following each of the symbols are numbers. Numbers in Linear B are written read in a fashion similar to that of Latin. Tallies represent ones, dashes represent tens, circles represent hundreds, and a circle backed over a cross represent thousands.

For example, this is how the number 15 would be written in English, Latin, and Linear B

English = 15         Latin = XV         Linear B = -|||||

Finally, it is good to notice when attempting to translate this script that Linear B only has one symbol to represent the three sounds that make up the three Greek constant groups. For example, the labial letters (β, π, φ) could all be written using the same linear B symbol and so all three letters must be considered for translations.

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Boundary Inscriptions

Horos Inscription A (Aegina)

Aegina Horos Inscription A




This inscription is on a boundary stone. Boundary stones were markers meant to designate sacred spaces of the ancient gods and goddesses. These types of inscriptions are often called horos inscriptions because they are typically engraved with the Greek word horos (ὅρος), meaning boundary. This particular boundary stone is to mark off the sacred space for Athena as stated in the inscription. The stone itself is a tall, rectangular shape that has been smoothed at the top for the inscription while the rest had been decoratively left rough under the inscription.

This inscription is written entirely in upper case. As is common in inscriptions, there are no rough breathers or accents. The eta in the first word, όρος, is acting as a rough breather for the first omicron. The dots in the middle of the omicrons are identical in letter form to the theta in Ἀθεναίας ; however, this style for the omicrons is an idiosyncrasy of the scribe.

Line 1

ὅρος:  is in the nominative so the reader must supply a verb, “to be”. The Η is acting as a rough breather so distinguishes ὅρος, boundary, from ὄρος, mountain.

Line 2

τέμενος: is also in the nominative. A τέμενος is a space marked off for religious purposes, from the verb τέμνω, “to cut”.

Line 3

Ἀθεναίας: What case do you think Ἀθεναίας is in?

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Horos B Inscription (Aegina)

Aegina Horos Inscription B




[ο]ς Ποσει-


This inscription is on a boundary stone. Boundary stones were markers meant to designate sacred spaces of the ancient gods and goddesses. These types of inscriptions are often called horos inscriptions because they are typically engraved with the Greek word horos (ὅρος), meaning boundary. This particular boundary stone is to mark off the sacred space for Apollo and Poseidon as stated in the inscription. The stone itself is a tall, rectangular shape that has been smoothed near the top for the inscription. A small portion of the stone above of the inscription and the rest of the stone under the inscription have been decoratively left rough.

This inscription is written entirely in upper case. As is common in inscriptions, there are no rough breathers or accents. The eta in the first word, όρος, is acting as a rough breather for the first omicron. Apollo’s name is mostly on the third line of the inscription with the last two letters his name falling on the fourth line. There is no conjunction between Apollo’s name and Poseidon’s, whose name is written half on the fourth line and the other half on the fifth line.

Line 1

ὅρος and τέμενος: are both in the nominative so the reader must supply a verb, “to be”. The Η is acting as a rough breather so distinguishes ὅρος, boundary, from ὄρος, mountain.

Line 2

τέμενος: is a space marked off for religious purposes, from the verb τέμνω,
"to cut”.

Line 3-4

Ἀπόλλων: What case do you think Ἀπόλλων is in?

Line 3-5

Ποσειδῶνος: What case do you think Ποσειδῶνος is in?

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Building Inscriptions

Altar of the Chians

Altar of the Chians

Δέλφοι ἔδωκαν Χιοις προμαντεῖην

The inscription itself is carved in the orderly stoichedon style that is typical of public inscriptions. The reader must add accents and word breaks as none are indicated on the stone.

ἔδωκαν: aorist active 3rd plural from δίδωμι

προμαντεῖην: Because this was written using an Ionian dialect, προμαντεια is given an -ειην ending in the accusative rather than the Attic -αν that would be expected. This does not change how the word is translated. This word is a compound of πρῶτος meaning "first" and μάντις meaning "prophet." At Delphi where there were often long waits to consult the oracle, this word became commonly used to mean "the right to first consult with the oracle."

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Nymph Dedication

Nymph Pedimental Dedication

This terracotta model of an architectural pediment acts as a votive dedication to the nymphs. Dated to 300 bce, this pediment has a painted inscription of the common formulaic expression "Someone dedicated (this) to some deity or deities." 

Εὔφρονις νύ<μ>φαις ἀνέθηκε. 

νύ<μ>φαις: The inscription reads νύνφαις. 

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Grave Monuments


Nikandre Kore

Athens, NM 1. 640 BCE.

Νικάνδρη μ᾿ἀνεθεκεν ἑκηβόλοι ἰοχεαίρηι Κόρη Δεινοδίκηο τῶ Ναησίο ἔησοχος ἀλήον Δεινομένεος δὲ κασιγνέτη Φηράησο δ᾽ἄλοχος ν[ῦν?]

The Nikandre Kore is a votive statue, meaning it is dedicated to a god or goddess. Its sculptural style is daedalic, defined as early (`700 BCE) and having plank-like features, including broad locks of hair that frame a triangular face and thicken the neck.. In the inscription, Nikandre is identified not by her own merits but primarily through her relationship to men in her life—her father, brother, and husband.

The inscription runs down the lower left side of her body. There are no word breaks and the text is in boustrophedon, meaning its direction changes after each line. In this alphabet, betas look like Cs. While the koppa (ϙ) towards the end of the first line is no longer in use, it can be transliterated as a kappa (κ). The etas look rectangular and have a line through them, and the thetas are crossed.

Line 1: While ἑκηβόλοι looks like a masculine plural noun, it is actually a feminine singular dative noun meaning far-shooter, as is ἰοχεαίρηι, meaning arrow-pourer, both of which signify that the statue is dedicated to Artemis.

The name Δεινοδίκηο is in the genitive, and τῶ Ναησίο, also in the genitive, reveals that Deinodikes is from Naxos.

Line 2: ἔησοχος most likely means excellent, and refers back to Nikandre.

ἀλήον may be an accusative of respect, and signifies that she is excellent with respect to other women.

κασιγνέτη is a singular feminine nominative noun meaning sister.

ἄλοχος is also singular feminine nominative, and means wife.

Φηράησο is also a name in the genitive, Phraxos.

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Phrasikleia Kore


σέμα Φρασικλείας· / κόρε κεκλέσομαι / αἰεί ἀντὶ γάμο / παρὰ θέον τοῦτο / λαχοσ᾿ ὄνομα


Ἀριστίον Παρι[ός μ᾿ ἐπ]ο[ίε]σε

This inscription is engraved on the limestone base of a kore statue. Kore statues were mainly votive offerings to gods and goddesses, but this particular one is a rare kore statue made for funerary purposes. Kore statues are depicted as young, unmarried female figures dressed in various garments depending on the styles of the time. This kore statue is dressed in a decorated peplos (πέπλος) and shoes, a floral headpiece, a necklace and bracelet. Kouros statues were the male equivalent of kore statues, except depicted usually nude. Typically, these statues (both kore and kouros) were used for multiple graves from the same family because these were expensive grave marker.

            Phrasikleia is the only named in this inscription, which is unusual because usually sepulchral inscriptions mentioned fathers, husbands, or other male relatives. Phrasikleia died unmarried, so that explains why there is no husband mentioned; however, neither her father nor brother is inscribed on this grave monument.

Line one

σέμα: is in the nominative and Φρασικλείας (Phrasikleia) is in the genitive, signifying that this is her grave. Readers can supply a verb to be so it translates to “This is the grave of Phrasikleia” which then σέμα being a predicate nominative.

Line two

κόρε: is in the nominative. Kore is name of Persephone before she marries the Hades. Kore means maiden or girl. The verb κεκλέσομαι is the future perfect passive of the verb καλέω, though simply translated as “I am called.”

Line three

αἰεί: is an adverb. What case is γάμο since it goes with ἀντὶ?

Line four

παρὰ θέον: is the agent for the passive verb κεκλέσομαι. What case is θεον in with the preposition παρὰ?

Line five

λαχοσ᾿: comes from the verb λαγχάνω, meaning to obtain, and is elided with the ὄνομα. λαχοσ᾿ is the aorist participle with the direct object ὄνομα in the accusative.

Greek on the right side

This is the signature of the artist, Aristion, who is in the nominative (Ἀριστίον). Παριός is a geographical adjective and is in the nominative. The μ᾿ is a crasis (contraction) of the last letter of μέ with the first letter of the following word [ἐπ]ο[ίε]σε. The verb [ἐπ]ο[ίε]σε is in the aorist.

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Akraiphia Grave Stelae

Grave Monument from Akraiphia

Μνασιθείο: μνεμ’ εἰμὶ

ἐπ’ ὀδõι: καλόν:

ἀλά μ’ ἔθεκεν: Πύρι

χος: ἀρχαίες: ἀντὶ



Φιλορος ἐποίε<σ>εν

In terms of punctuation, colons in ancient inscriptions were used as word breaks, sentence breaks, and/or actual colons. Colons were also sometimes replaced with tripuncts (three dots stacked atop each other).

line 1

μνεμ’: accusative singular neuter of μνῆμα meaning memorial, remembrance, record

line 2

καλόν: this is a neuter singular adjective in the accusative and therefore should be taken with μνῆμα in the previous sentence rather than with the με in the next. It has been separated out on both sides by colons by the scribe perhaps as a form of emphasis.

line 3

ἀλά = ἀλλά

ἔθεκεν: is a very common word in dedicatory inscriptions such as this one. It is the 3rd person singular aorist form of the verb τιθήμι meaning to set up. ἔθεκεν literally translates to "he/she/it placed X" but it can and is rendered most commonly as "he/she/it dedicated X" when found in the context of grave steles, altars, monuments, etc. I chose to render it here as "he erected" in a reflection of the sexual nature of the relationship between the two men (Mnastheios and Pyrichos) that would've been suggested to an ancient viewer via the iconography of the rooster and flower.

Πύρι/χος: on the stone, it may look like this mans name should be Πύριψος but since this is Boetian Greek, the Ψ symbol stands for the Χ sound. Is this unnecessarily confusing? Yes. You can see and compare the different scripts here.

line 6

Φιλοργος: though written without on this particular monument, we do know from other monuments that the artist's name is actually spelled with an upsilon. i.e. Philourgos (Φιλουργος). Ηe is listed as such in modern catalogs.

ἐποίε<σ>εν: the scribe has left out the sigma on the stone but we can replace it in our transcription because we know that this smaller inscription is the artists signature. Artist signatures always used the word ποιέω in the aorist tense to indicate their full completion of a work and this tense requires a sigma.

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Hediste Grave Stele

Volos Mus 1. 200 BCE

Λυπρὸν ἐφ᾿ Ἡδίστηι Μοῖραι τότε νῆμα ἀπ᾿ ἀτράκτων

     κλῶσαν, ὅτε ὠδίνος νύμφη ἀπηντίασεν.

σχετλίη! οὐ γὰρ ἔμελλε τὸ νήπιον ἀνκαλιεῖσθαι,

     μαστῶι τε ἀρδεύσειν χεῖλος ἑοῖο βρέφους.

ἕν γὰρ ἐσεῖδε φάος καὶ ἀπήγαγεν εἰς ἕνα τύμβον

     τοὺς δισσούς, ἀκριτῶς τοῖσδε μολοῦσα, Τύχη.

 This funerary epigram is metrical, written in elegaic couplets, which is a hexameter line followed by a pentameter line. See if you can scan it!

 Line 1
ἐφ᾿ = ἐπί. The iota is elided before the vowel, the eta, in Hediste. The final pi of ἐπί then become aspirated under the influence of the rough breather on Ἡδίστηι.

δίστηι: In inscriptions, iota endings for the dative cannot be subscripted but end up next to the vowel. So -ηι is equivalent to ῃ.

Μοῖραι (The Fates):  In other poetry, the image of the Fates spinning out a thread is associated with men of glorious exploits and the lives that they have led. For example in the Odyssey, Alkinoös addresses the still unnamed wanderer Odysseus with the trope: “but there in the future he shall endure all that is destiny and the heavy Spinners spun for him with the thread at his birth, when his mother bore him,” (Lattimore transl., 7.197 – 199). Hediste’s life, and in particular her current travail and its tragic outcome, is epically invoked by reminiscing on the Fates, who doled out her destiny when she herself was born.

 Line 2
κλῶσαν > κλώθω. What tense is the verb?

ὠδίνος > ὠδίς, -ίνος, ἡ: Pangs of childbirth. Genitive with the verb ἀπηντίασεν (> ἀπαντιάζω).

Line 3
The word σχετλίη more properly means “able to hold out, unwearying, unflinching” and acquired the meaning of “flinching from no wickedness or cruelty, i.e. merciless or headstrong”. In Homer, it is used of heroes to express their endurance in battle. For example in the Iliad, Odysseus wakes up Diomedes with the words: σχετλίος, ἐσσι, γεραιέ· σὺ μὲν πόνου οὔ ποτε λήγεις,(Il. 10.164). “You are unflinching, old man; never once have you ceased from the hard work”.  This same denotation applies to Hediste here and creates in the reader’s mind a vivid representation of her ceaseless efforts to bring this child to birth. In the end, she has failed, but not because of cowardice or weakness.

ἔμελλε...ἀνκαλιεῖσθαι...ἀρδεύσειν: μέλλω, “intend”, is followed by future infinitives.

 Line 4
χεῖλος is a neuter noun.

ἑοῖο: epic genitive of  ἑός, “his, her own”.

βρέφος, -εος, τό: babe in the womb, foetus. What case is βρέφους? Remember contract third-declension nouns.

Line 5
φάος, φάεος, τό: light; uncontracted form of the more familiar Attic word φῶς, φωτός.

ἕν: Notice the breather.

 Line 6
μολοῦσα: aorist participle from βλώσκω, “to come or go”. Notice its gender and number.

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εἰ κέκρικας χρηστὴν, Ῥαδάμανθυ, γυναῖκα καὶ ἄλλην

ἢ Μίνως, καὶ τήνδ’ οὖσαν Ἀριστομάχου

κούρην, εἰς Μακάρων Νήσους ἄγετ’! Εὐσεβείαν γὰρ

ἤσκει καὶ σύνεδρον τῆσδε δικαιοσύνην.

Ἥν Τυλισὸς μὲν ἔθρεψε, πόλις Κρῆσσ’ ἥδε δὲ γαῖα

ἀμφέπει ἀθάνατον - μοῖρα σοί, Ἀρχιδίκη!

This stele in the form of a naiskos, or miniature temple, is adorned with palmettes on the roof, and a painted pomegranate in the pedimental triangle. The epithet is carved in six lines, corresponding to the metrical lines of an elegaic couplet (one hexameter line followed by a pentameter line), directly below the cornice. Under the inscription are two rosettes that would have been painted to imitate blossoms and a painted scene depicting a veiled woman seated on a cushioned chair, with a smaller attendant or child to her left (perhaps behind).  The scene is a generic one, painted, but corresponding to similar carved scenes in the Attic corpus of grave stele. The distinctive part of this monument is the poetry, which alludes in several places to the Cretan homeland of Archidike, the deceased woman. Elegiac couplets are particularly effectively in evoking a sense of place while also heroizing the deceased woman and associating her with the heroic dead.

line 1

κέκρικας: perfect active indicative, 2nd person singular, from κρίνω.

χρηστὴν: accusative feminine singular modifying γυναῖκα. The adjective means useful or beneficial, a common, positive qualifier in epitaphs.

Ῥαδάμανθυ: vocative, singular, masculine. The vocative continues in ἢ Μίνως in line 2. Rhadamanthus and Minos were two of three judges in the underworld who, in life, were kings in Crete.

line 2

ἢ Μίνως: see line 1.

οὖσαν: accusative, feminine, singular present participle of εἶμι (sum), modifying γυναῖκα.

τήνδε: accusative, femine singular of the epideictic adjective, pointing out the deceased woman in particular.

line 3


Μακάρων Νήσους: Isles of the Blest, a section of the underworld where the most renowned heroes and heroines find final rest.

line 4

τῆσδε: see τήνδε in line 3.

line 5

Ἥν: accusative, feminine, singular of the relative pronoun.

Τυλισὸς: Tylisos, an ancient city on the island of Crete.

ἥδε: also an epideictic pronoun, but here referring to the land, γαῖα,  in which the deceased woman has been laid to rest. Since she, herself, is referred to with epideictic pronouns in two other lines, this may be a deliberate poetic usage to emphasize her burial in the ground.

line 6

ἀθάνατον: accusative, singular, feminine; compound adjectives, ἀ + θάνατον, use the masculine form for both masculine and feminine.

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Stratonikos, son of Stratos

Stratonikos, son of Stratos

Volos Mus 9 200 BCE


ψυχὴν μὲν ἐνείδομεν, ἣ προελίνπα

νεν· ὀστέα δὲ ὧδε μητρί τε καὶ ἀδελφῇ

ἀνιηρὸν κῆδος ἵκανεν.

This text is inscribed on a grave stele in the shape of a naiskos, formed by two Ionic pilasters supporting a flat roof. The name of the deceased is precisely spaced out to fill the entire length of the architrave, and the non-metrical epitaph is inscribed in three lines at the top of the space between the pilasters, above the painted image of a standing young man grasping the right hand of a seated man.

 ΣΤΡΑΤΟΝΙΚΟΣ ΣΤΡΑΤΩΝΟΣ: Very simple nomenclature, using only the name of the deceased and a patronymic (father’s name in the genitive case). There is no ethnic indication as is found on many of the stelai from Demetrias.

 ἐνείδομεν: 2nd aorist of a verb that is not found in the present, which would be ἔνοιδα. ἐνοράω instead serves as the present. The verb means “observe”.

προελίνπανεν: < προλείπω: “to abandon, forsake”. One would expect προύλιπον for the second aorist, but here the augment remains unelided, a nu had slipped into the stem of the verb, and the endings are taken from the first aorist. It is possible that the stonecarver was not literate since the verb is awkwardly split between two lines.

 What contrast does the μέν...δέ indicate?

κῆδος, -εος, τὸ generally means ‘care’, but often refers specifically to the care afforded to the dead, including mourning and the funeral.

ἀνιηρὸν  for ἀνιερόν, unholy, unhallowed, unconsecrated. The bones are called unconsecrated which indicates they must have arrived at Demetrias from a battlefield or the site of a fatal accident and needed to be washed, cared for, and buried by Stratonikos’ mother and sister. Burial was an absolute necessity in ancient Greece or else the soul could not rest in the underworld.

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Lamella Inscriptions

Lamella Orphica

Lamella Orphica

δίψαι αος γ καπόλλυμαι

λλ πιέμου κράνας αειρόω

π δ’εξιά λευκ κυπάρισσος

“τίς δέζι? π δέζι?” Γς υός εμί

κα ορανο στερόεντος

ατάρ μο γένος ορανόν

This inscription is a lamella, which typically is a flat strip of metal with letters pressed into its surface. The surface of this lamella is wrinkled, and there are lines visible, which indicate that it was folded at one point. The text is all uppercase and there are no spaces between words except for the line breaks.

The lamella may stem from Orphism, a sect of religious beliefs. Orphism is based on Orpheus, a mythical poet who ventured into the underworld and returned. The lamella contains instructions for the dead, including how to answer questions asked once the dead individual has reached the underworld. Most lamellae contain similar, if not nearly identical, words, which indicates that there may have been some sort of standard for burial practices, at least within Orphism.

Line 1: The first phrase, δίψαι αος γ, does not have a verb. αος (dry) is nominative so one can understand the verb “to be” with ἐγὼ as the subject. Because δίψαι (thirst) is dative, it follows after the understood verb.

Line 2: A verb is once again missing from the phrase. One should understand δότε (give), which would go with πιέμου. The first part, πιέ, is almost an infinitive (to drink), and the second part, μου, is a more easily recognized pronoun in the genitive.

Initially, αειρόω appears to be a verb due to its ending, but it is an adjective modifying κράνας, which is a feminine noun. Because αειρόω is a compound adjective, it uses same form when modifying both masculine and feminine nouns. Both are in the genitive, so one might expect to see υ instead of ω as the genitive ending.

Line 3: While the endings of λευκ and κυπάρισσος do not appear to agree in gender, both are singular feminine nominative.

Line4: In Crete, the ζ in words like έζι represented a double σ, so the verb is more easily identified as έσσι.

Line 6: μο γένος is tricky because one would expect μο to be genitive rather than dative, but here it functions as a dative of possession.

Getty 75.AM.19. 350 BCE.

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Mosaic Inscriptions

Osios Loukas

Osios Loukas Mosaic


Ἐγώ εἰμι τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου.

ὁ ἀκολουθῶν ἐμοὶ οὐ μὴ

περιπατήσῃ ἐν τῇ σκοτιᾳ,

ἀλλ᾽ἕξει τὸ φῶς τῆς ζωῆς.

This is a mosaic of Jesus holding an open book in one hand with an inscription on the pages of the open book. The inscription comes from John 8:12.

There are no spaces between the words and the line breaks do not often signify the end of a word. In the inscription, the sigmas are all lunate sigmas. υs look like lowercase νs, but they are in fact Υs. In the third line on the right side of the inscription, τῇ is written so that the letters are slightly combined. Some of the τs have a decorative top while others do not. In the inscription, there are accents above the words.

Line 1: On either side of the halo, above the shoulders, are ΙΣ and ΧΣ. These are abbreviations of his name, Ἰησοῦς Χριστός.

Line 3: ὁ ἀκολουθῶν is a present active singular masculine nominative participle. Because the article appears with it, the participle can be translated as “the one who follows” or “the one following.”

οὐ μὴ is unusual because together they form a double negative. μὴ is synonymous with οὐ; subjunctive verbs typically take μὴ. The double negative emphasizes that the action of the verb will no longer happen.

Line 4: περιπατήσῃ looks like it might be a noun in the dative, but it is actually a third person singular aorist subjunctive verb and can be translated as “shall not walk about.”

Line 5: ἕξει is a third person singular future verb, and it comes from ἔχω.

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Mosaic of Zeus and Ganymede

Roman Mosaic

Νείκιας ἐψηφοθετήσεν

This inscription is on a Roman floor mosaic made out of glass and stone tesserae. Floor mosaics were popular during the Roman Period and often depicted various mythological scenes just like the Mosaic of Zeus and Ganymede. Mosaics were made out of geometrical blocks called tesserae that were made from different materials, such as natural stone, brick, tile, and even occasionally glass and gold. Polychrome mosaics are more common than monochrome mosaics. Inscriptions on mosaics tend to be short and often used abbreviated words, most likely because of the difficulty of making mosaics. The inscription on this mosaic is the signature of the artist.

The inscription is entirely in upper case letters and there is no space or punctuation between the two words Νείκιας and ἐψηφοθετήσεν. Νείκιας is the name of the artist and ἐψηφοθετήσεν is the verb. There is no direct object needed in this inscription because the verb ψηφοθετώ understands the direct object to be a mosaic.

Line 1

Νείκιας:is the the nominative of the name Neikias, the artist of this mosaic.

Εψηφοθετήσεν: comes from the verb ψηφοθετώ, meaning to tessellate or to make a mosaic. Because the verb is augmented with an epsilon and a sigma before the verb ending, what tense is ἐψηφοθετήσεν?

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Vase Inscriptions

Corinthian Aryballos

Corinthian Aryballos



These two names are inscribed on a Corinthian aryballos made from terracotta. An aryballos was a container to store perfume or oil. This aryballos used the black-figure technique for decoration. Black-figure began in Corinth and for more information about black-figure pottery, please see the Beazley Archive at
The letters in this inscription look similar to most Ancient Greek seen in textbooks and other inscriptions; however, these letters have a few variances from Attic Greek alphabet. This aryballos uses the Corinthian alphabet, which was a localized alphabet of the city-state of Corinth in south-central Greece.

AθΑΝΑ: This is Athena’s name written in the Corinthian alphabet. The artist used alphas instead of etas when spelling her name. The theta uses a cross in the middle instead of a single horizontal bar, which is not uncommon for many Archaic Greek alphabets.

ΗΕΡΑΚΛΕΣ: This is Herakles’ name written in the Corinthian alphabet. The first letter of his name is an eta acting as the rough breather for the second letter, an epsilon. The Corinthian epsilon looks similar to a beta, except the epsilon is pointier than the rounded beta. The rho, alpha, lambda, and sigma look very similar to other Archaic Greek alphabets.

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Attic Black Figure Eye Cup

Attic Black Figure Eye Cup

Νικόσθενες ἐποίεσεν

We have in the archaeological record evidence of a fairly popular potter from this time period named Nikosthenes to whom this cup can be attributed thanks to the artist signature. But the use of the word ἐποἰεσεν indicates to us that Nikosthenes only sculpted the pot. He likely did not paint the black figure scene on it.

Rather, as was common at this time, a separate person was hired to paint/inscribe the cup. We can sometimes find the names of these painters written in artists signatures which use the word ἐγράψεν (wrote, painted) but this particular painter did not sign their name. Luckily, the unique stylistic choices which are seen on this and various other vessels from Nikosthenes' shop have allowed us to identify them as having been painted by the same painter. Therefore they are cataloged as having been painted by "Nikosthenes Painter."

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Black Figure Dinos Fragment

Dinos Fragment


Σόφ[ι]λος μ' ἔγρα<ψ>εν

Πατρόϙλυς: α<θ>λά


line 1

Sophilos uses a retrograde script throughout this pottery fragment but it is hard to say which direction the inscription fragment on the furthest left side should be read in. Typically, the direction of asymmetrical letters such as sigma, epsilon, or pi can be used to indicate the intended reading direction but Sophilos, in lines 2 and 3, uses sigmas facing two different directions. This means that both directions are probable for the inscription fragment.

If read in retrograde, these two letters can be read as the beginning of a name. However, when we search through the text of The Iliad, none of the men who participated in the chariot race had names beginning in ΣΟ. So if we instead read this fragment from left to right, with these two letters standing as the masculine, nominative, singular ending of a name, we find three names: Eumelos, Menelaos, and Antilochos. All of these men raced in the funeral games of Patrokles and therefore any one of them could have been the one depicted on this dinos when it was complete.

line 2

Multiple letters are missing from this line due to the fragmentation of the dinos but luckily for us, this line is recognizable as an artist signature. These signatures are highly formulaic throughout ancient inscriptions: Name of Artist in Nominative + με/μ' (optional) + Verb of Creation in Aorist. Little variation allows us to securely supply the three missing letters making this line read Σόφ[ι]λος μ' ἔγρα[πς]εν. I have in the transcription simplified the πσ into a ψ.

line 3

At the time of this vessels creation, the letter koppa (Ϙ, ϙ) was still used in Greek script. This letter represented a palatal "koh" and could be seen throughout the ancient world especially in Corinth, originally spelled Ϙόρινθος. Usage continued until the mid 5th century when its similarity in use and function to the letter kappa (Κ, κ) rendered the symbol obsolete. Funnily enough, the letter managed to survive this period of obsolescence and survives to us today as the precursor to the Latin letter Q, q.

The tripunct in this line serves as a word break.

ΑΤΛΑ = αθλά. In the 6th century, the same symbol could be used to represent all three forms of its constant group (voiced, unvoiced, and aspirated). In this way, the τ here can be taken as any of the three constants in the dental group (τ, θ, or δ). When all three letters are tried only αθλά makes a contextual word.

line 4

Αχίλες = Αχίλλες. In The Iliad, Achilles’ name is spelled either way depending on the needs of the meter. Oftentimes you’ll find the single lambda version of his name at the beginning or middle of a line, the double-lambda version can be found when he is at the end.

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Votive Inscriptions

Mantiklos "Apollo"

Mantiklos Bronze Statuette

Μάντικλος μ’ ’ανέθηκε ϝεκαβόλοι ’αργυρτόξσοι τάς δεκάτας. τύ δέ Φοίβε δίδοι χαρίϝετταν ’αμοί

The inscription is engraved on the thighs of this bronze statuette in boustrophedon. There is no spacing between the words and the letters are written entirely in the uppercase. Because the letters all run together, trying to decipher the words can be difficult; however, remembering certain trick can help tell apart the words, such as a sigma not followed by a vowel, often is the end of a word.

This metrical inscription is written in dactylic hexameter, just as the Iliad, Odyssey, and the Aeneid are written in. Dactylic hexameter is meter made up of six feet of either dactyls (— u u) or spondees (— —), ending in a trochee (— X). (— u u | — u u | — u u | — u u | — u u | — X). This meter is known as the heroic meter.

ΜΑΝΤΙΚΛΟΣ: (Μάντικλος) is the nominative of the name Mantiklos.

ΜΑΝΕΘΕΚΕ: (μ’ ’ανέθηκε) is a crasis (a contracting of two words; in this case: μέ and ’ανέθεκε). Μέ is one of the direct objects of the verb ’ανέθηκε. Άνέθηκε is in the aorist from the verb ’ανατίθημι, meaning to dedicate or grant. This is a common verb used in dedicatory inscriptions.

FΕΚΑΒΟΛΟΙ: (ϝεκαβόλοι) This word begins in a digamma, which is an archaic letter in the Greek alphabet that makes a “w” sound. Because we know the verb is a verb of giving, showing, or telling, what case do we expect to see? 

ΑΡΓΥΡΟΤΟΧΣΟΙ: (’αργυρτόξσοι) This word goes with ϝεκαβόλοι as another way to describe the god, Apollo.

ΤΑΣ ΔΕΚΑΤΑΣ: (τάς δεκάτας) means a tithe and is another direct object in conjunction with μέ (i.e. Mantiklos gave me as a tithe).

ΤΥ ΔΕ ΦΟΙΒΕ: (τύ δέ Φοίβε) τύ is the second person pronoun preceding the vocative, Φοίβε. Δέ helps indicate to readers that this is a new sentence.

ΔΙΔΟΙ: (δίδοι) is the second person, optative, singular from the verb δίδωμι.

ΧΑΡΙFΕΤΤΑΝ AMOII: (χαρίϝετταν ’αμοί) is the direct object of the verb δίδοι. Χαρίϝετταν is the superlative degree of the word χάρις. Άμοί is the dative indirect object of the first person plural pronoun. 

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Wooden Plaques

Pitsa Plaque

Wooden plaque from Pitsa cave

[ἀν]έθεκε ταῖς νύμφαις




The wooden panel depicts a procession moving to the right toward an altar for a sacrifice. There are six fully visible people with one partially visible person at the end of the procession. Of the visible people, there are three women and three boys. The leading woman is pouring a libation from a jug while the other two women follow behind. The women are dressed in chiton and peplos, and their clothes are painted red and blue. Two of the boys are musicians, one playing the flute and the other playing the lyre. The third boy is leading a sheep to the altar to be sacrificed.

The inscription uses the Corinthian alphabet. The panel is damaged along the outside, affecting the readability of the letters, namely those in the top row and along the right side. In this image, ταῖς νύμφαις, is difficult to read.

Line 1: While the first two letters are mostly missing, the first word is most likely ἀνέθεκε, the aorist of ἀνατίθημι, meaning “attribute” or “dedicate.” The recipients of the dedication are ταῖς νύμφαις, and they can be identified as the recipients because they are in the dative.

Line 2: εὐθυδικα is most likely a name, either of a woman who dedicated the panel, or perhaps a name of one of the women depicted in the painting.

Line 3: εὐκολις is also likely a name.

Line 4: On the right side of the panel, κορίνθιος can be read. The inscription down the side is most likely the dedicator or an artist signature, but all that remains is the person’s origin: Corinthian.

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Modern Inscriptions

Monastery of Aghia Panaghia Goumenissa

Monastery of Aghia Panaghia Goumenissa Trash Can

Νίψον ανομήματα μη μόναν όψιν.

This palindrome (παλίνδρομος) works in the Greek but cannot be transliterated into Roman letters. Transliterations of the ψ's require the use of two letters (ps). This is why even in places that typically use a Romanized alphabet, the inscription remains in Greek.

νίψον: 2nd aorist form of νίπτω directly meaning "to wash the hands." An alternate, albeit much clunkier translation that encompasses this meaning would be "Wash from the hand sin, do not only wash the face."

ανομήματα: While ανομήματα has a fairly secular meaning (a transgression of the law) rendering it as sins, allows for the religious aspect of this particular phrase to be clearly conveyed.

For aid in pronunciation, see "Νίψον ανομήματα."

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